NARUS, deep packet inspection and the NSA

While the supercomputer systems NARUS makes are likely not available to state and local law enforcement (except perhaps to mega-departments like the NYPD), they are in use by the largest and most secretive of all the US intelligence agencies: the NSA.

Boeing subsidiary Narus and other companies like it, including Verint, Comverse and NICE, automate the collection of most of the electronic data in the world, including mostly everything on the internet, including voice-over IP calls through services like Skype; the vast majority of phone conversations and mobile communications; and the transactional records that undergird these international telecommunications systems. Narus creates so-called 'deep packet inspection' technology that enables geolocation, tracing and extensive monitoring of internet traffic.

Former NSA crypto-mathematician Bill Binney has publicly stated that he thinks the NSA stores copies of every email transmitted in the United States. Narus is likely the computer that catches and stores this data.

Narus, the STA 6400 and AT&T

Back in 2005, The New York Times revealed what they had already known, but kept secret, for a year: the Bush administration had authorized the NSA to secretly spy on Americans' digital communications without warrants or approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, FISC. 

But well before the Times published this story, or even knew about it, an AT&T technician in California discovered something that troubled him greatly.

Mark Klein was working at AT&T's Geary Street switching facility in downtown San Francisco in 2002 when he received an email saying that someone from the NSA was coming to the office to do business. Klein thought this was odd, because he knew that the NSA was not supposed to look at US communications; the switching facility was one of many where trillions of US communications passed through each year.

In his must-read book on the NSA, The Shadow Factory, James Bamford describes what happened a year later:

Then in January 2003, [Klein] and several other employees toured the company's giant switch on Folsom street. "There I saw a new room being built adjacent to the 4ESS switch room where the public's phone calls are routed," he said. "I learned that the person whom the NSA interviewed for the secret job was the person working to install equipment in this room."

Almost a year later, Bamford reports, Klein was transferred to the Folsom street facility,

where he was put in charge of the WorldNet Internet room, one floor above the secret NSA room. "As soon as I saw the splitter," Klein said, "I knew this was completely unconstitutional and illegal because they were copying everything. I'm a technician, I know what this equipment does, and I traced the cable. This cable goes to that room, which we can't go into; that's a government room. And I knew what was on that cable...It was everything that went across the Internet then, which was Web browsing and email, and VoIP calls...Based on my understanding of the connections and equipement at issue...it appears the NSA is capable of conducting what amounts to vacuum-cleaner surveillance of all the data crossing the Internet...The physical apparatus gives them everything."

The "physical apparatus" Klein describes was a Narus system. The key part of the system, Klein discovered, was a 'Narus STA 6400,' a 'Semantic Traffic Analyzer.' Another piece of Narus equipment was also in that room: the Narus Logic Server. As Bamford aptly summarizes, these technologies were initially developed so that internet companies could break down internet activity into "packets," allowing for telecoms to appropriately charge consumers for their bandwith usage. But soon after the attacks on 9/11, Narus realized it could market the technologies to governments for wide-ranging surveillance. And it did just that.

Fast forward to March 2012, when the NSA is busy constructing a massive data and spying center that will be five times the size of the US capitol. Again on the beat, this time for Wired magazine, James Bamford describes the project:

A project of immense secrecy, it is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade. Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks. The heavily fortified $2 billion center should be up and running in September 2013. Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital “pocket litter.” It is, in some measure, the realization of the “total information awareness” program created during the first term of the Bush administration—an effort that was killed by Congress in 2003 after it caused an outcry over its potential for invading Americans’ privacy.

Makes DHS' "complete operational awareness" look a bit amateur, doesn't it?

How can this kind of vacuum-style, society wide surveillance exist alongside promises of democratic governance, and parallel to constitutional guarantees that the government will stay out of our business unless we are suspected to have committed a crime?

It doesn't square. And while the US government has thus far not used its vast surveillance architecture to crush dissent on a national scale, as has been done in other nations that deploy the same technologies, the architecture is firmly in place to enable such a crackdown. 

Read the rest of Bamford's 2012 expose on the NSA for more details. For more information about how the Narus systems work, read "Splitter," a chapter in the third section of The Shadow Factory.

In June 2013, on the heels of another major NSA spying scandal brought on by disclosures to the Guardian newspaper by whistleblower Edward Snowden, James Bamford published yet another impressive story about the secretive agency in Wired Magazine. In that piece, he describes how General Keith Alexander has played a driving role in both the aggressive expansion (and domesticization) of NSA collection and monitoring programs and massive resource and institutional investment in offensive cyberwar capabilities.

The NSA's building boom does not begin nor end in Utah, we learn:

All these capabilities require a giant expansion of secret facilities. Thousands of hard-hatted construction workers will soon begin erecting cranes, driving backhoes, and emptying cement trucks as they expand the boundaries of NSA’s secret city eastward, increasing its already enormous size by a third. “You could tell that some of the seniors at NSA were truly concerned that cyber was going to engulf them,” says a former senior Cyber Command official, “and I think rightfully so.”
 
In May, work began on a $3.2 billion facility housed at Fort Meade in Maryland. Known as Site M, the 227-acre complex includes its own 150-megawatt power substation, 14 administrative buildings, 10 parking garages, and chiller and boiler plants. The server building will have 90,000 square feet of raised floor—handy for supercomputers—yet hold only 50 people. Meanwhile, the 531,000-square-foot operations center will house more than 1,300 people. In all, the buildings will have a footprint of 1.8 million square feet. Even more ambitious plans, known as Phase II and III, are on the drawing board. Stretching over the next 16 years, they would quadruple the footprint to 5.8 million square feet, enough for nearly 60 buildings and 40 parking garages, costing $5.2 billion and accommodating 11,000 more cyberwarriors.

If you are interested to learn about how Narus super computers can be used for nefarious purposes, watch the video below. It describes how the Egyptian government used the product to crack-down on protest leaders during the 2011 revolution against Mubarak in that country.

Please note that by playing this clip You Tube and Google will place a long-term cookie on your computer. Please see You Tube's privacy statement on their website and Google's privacy statement on theirs to learn more. To view the ACLU's privacy statement, click here.

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